May 25, 2007—Seven low-income countries—five of them in Africa—this week received support for education programs, under the Education for All - Fast Track Initiative. The national education plans of Benin, Cambodia, Mali, Mauritania, Mongolia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone were endorsed with a financial plan totaling US$ 265 million in grants.
The support for the seven national education plans at the FTI donors meeting held last week in Bonn and co-chaired Germany, the current head of the G8 president, comes on the heels of the High-Level Education Conference in Brussels earlier in May and hosted by the European Commission. During this event, new commitments were made by donors for more, better, faster and longer-term aid for education. For the first time, the High-Level Conference had active participation as well of the private sector and such foundations as the Soros and the Hewlett foundations.
The Case of Benin
Benin, which joined the Fast Track Initiative at the start of 2007, is one of the great African performers in the education field. The number of children enrolled in primary school increased from 65 percent in 1995 to 94 percent in 2005. Girls education is a priority in Benin's national education plan as the number of girls that enjoys basic education lags behind (girls' participation in 2005 was 44 percent). Another priority is enhancement of the quality of education. Although the primary completion rate (the number of children that completes grade six of primary school compared to the relevant age group) increased from 30 percent in 1995 to 54 percent in 2005, the country is making the necessary investments to provide higher quality education to its nation's children thereby reducing the repetition rate and the number of children dropping out of school. With support from the World Bank, bilateral donors and the Catalytic Fund, Benin will hire more teachers which will improve the teacher to pupil ratio significantly. By reopening teacher training colleges, it plans to have 1,200 qualified new teachers per year from 2009 onwards which is a 33 percent increase from 2006 in the number of graduates.
Despite the commitments to Education for All made at the 2000 World Education forum in Dakar, Senegal, not all developing countries with sound education plans have been able to attract the additional financing they need. For this reason, a Catalytic Fund of the Education for All - Fast Track Initiative (FTI) was created and sponsored by The Netherlands, United Kingdom, the European Commission, Ireland, Spain, France, Denmark, Germany, Russia and Belgium. Countries with FTI-endorsed national education plans can draw upon this fund to jump-start their education investments.
The seven additional national education plans are being funded from the Catalytic Fund. “These education plans show very clearly the firm commitment of developing countries to educate their nations’ children,” said Desmond Bermingham, head of the FTI secretariat. “Some of these countries are extremely poor, but still they manage to dedicate 20 percent of their scarce domestic resources to education purposes.”
The Education for All - Fast Track Initiative was established in 2002 under the leadership of the World Bank to help increase the levels of financing for basic education in poor countries. It is also helping to ensure that all financing – both domestic and external – is used effectively to help countries achieve long term and lasting improvements in their education systems.
As of now, 31 developing countries are endorsed by the Fast Track Initiative with 15 more countries awaiting FTI endorsement this year. It is hoped that by the end of 2008, another 15 countries can join the FTI to bring the total number of countries to 61 and to include such large and populous countries such as India, Nigeria and Ethiopia where many children do not go to school.
Indeed, access to education has expanded dramatically in recent years: in the past five years alone around 23 million children worldwide – who previously had no access to education - have enrolled into primary school. The share of children completing primary school has risen to 79 percent in 2005 from 69 percent in 1995. Six Sub-Saharan African countries have increased primary completion by over 10 percent a year since 2000. These figures point to the important progress that has been made in the most challenging countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, there are still 77 million children who are out of school today – including 44 million girls. It is estimated that US$9 billion in external aid is needed per year in order to achieve the goal of universal primary education. This would require almost a tripling in aid for basic education in low income countries over the next two to three years.